No human health without animal health —Expert

Against the backdrop of emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases that originate in animals like Ebola and lassa fever, an expert in human and animal medicine, Professor Ade Ojeniyi has stressed the need to prioritise them  to ensure health for all.

Ojeniyi, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune, said this was necessary because an estimated 20 per cent of all human illnesses and death in the least developed countries are attributable to animal diseases transmitted to humans.

According to the expert, “globally the top 13 animal diseases transmitted to humans (zoo-anthroponoses) with the greatest impact on poor livestock keepers in developing countries account for an estimated 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths annually.”

He added that 25 per cent of infectious diseases with significant impact on the global Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) burden were also due to animal diseases transmitted to humans, and especially parasites.

The don, a visiting professor at the University of Texas, School of Public Health in Houston, Texas, expressed concern that these diseases are often neglected by primary healthcare managers and by policy makers in Nigeria, despite the glaring risks they pose to health.

According to him, “we cannot enhance the health of animals and humans because there is no human health without animal health. Prioritising zoo-anthroponoses is not an option, but an absolute necessity for all health.”

He also expressed concern that the diseases were not been controlled in Nigeria.

The expert, however, said the term “zoonoses”, which is used to describe diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between animals and humans, as an anomaly.

He stated: “Apart from the inexactitude of the terminology, the definition suffers some weaknesses, one of the most important of which was the exclusion of infections with ecto-parasites such as fleas, lice, mites and ticks.

“What about diseases and infections which do not require a vertebrate reservoir because of their occurrence in water, soil, plants, food or fodder from where they are transmitted to humans and animals alike?”

In controlling these diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between animals and mans, he said veterinarians should be made to lead its control team, adding that by their training they are the custodians of animal and human health.